KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The house looked charming in the ad, plus it had three bathrooms, a backyard and was surrounded by a neighborhood of well-kept homes in Kansas City’s Historic Northeast.
“The type of neighborhood I would want me and my children to be in,” said Rhonda Dudley, a single mom.
Dudley had been looking for a rental home for close to two years, but nobody would accept her application. It was disheartening, but she knew why. She didn’t meet the standard qualification of earning three-times the monthly rent, and then there was her past.
“I’m a recovering addict,” she said. “I’ve been clean for two years, and had a job for two years,” she said.
But none of it seemed to make a difference until she contacted the person renting a home on Craigslist. After sending in an application, she received a message back.
“Congratulations you’ve been approved. Send me a $500 deposit via Cash App or Zelle and I commence to send you the keys,” her potential landlord wrote.
He went on to tell her that he couldn’t meet with her in person or show her the inside of the home because he was in Atlanta caring for his family after a “tragic accident which left one of his children in the hospital, one deceased and his wife disabled,” Dudley said.
The landlord didn’t know when he’d be back in Kansas City. That’s why he needed her to send the $500 deposit and he’d overnight the key.
Dudley, who was desperate for a home, was starting to grow suspicious, particularly when nearly every email he sent used a different name.
“The first name he gave me was David Waters,” Dudley said. “The second name he gave me the next day was Tameisha Waters. The third name he gave me was Koa Tao.”
Dudley said he always had an excuse as to why the names on his emails kept changing, telling her his employees were handling his rental properties, but after sending the money she never got the key.
It’s a story that realtor Dylan Van Gerpen has heard before, but he had no idea that a house that he once listed was now being used to scam someone until FOX4 Problem Solvers showed him. The photos that Van Gerpen had posted to sell the property on major sites like Realtor.com and Zillow had been copied by the scammer and put on Craigslist.
“It’s hard because we put all of our information out there online,” Van Gerpen said. “You get the photos of the house, the address, we leave everything up as real estate agents even after the property closes.”
So how do you protect yourself from falling victim to a scam? Van Gerpen recommends staying off of Craigslist.
“It’s not verified,” said Van Gerpen, referring to the fact that Craigslist allows anyone to post and doesn’t ask questions.
“There’s total anonymity for whomever is putting something up for rent or sale.”
Plus, never hand over a deposit until you’ve seen the inside of the house and signed a lease.
“If you can’t (go inside), walk away,” Van Gerpen said. “That’s the biggest red flag.”
Thank goodness Rhonda Dudley was suspicious. In fact, she was so suspicious that she refused to electronically transfer her deposit as requested by the scammer. Instead, she sent it via Western Union, a company that’s also been used by scammers frequently in the past but has made enough changes to its operation that this time it stopped a scammer.
“The man who went to pick up (my $500) didn’t have a government issued ID, so he couldn’t get the money,” Dudley said she was told by Western Union.
When Dudley explained that she had fallen victim to a scam, Western Union immediately returned her money.
Now, Dudley wants to warn others.
“I just don’t want this man to be able to do this to anyone else,” she said.
And he’s still out there. That fake listing on Craigslist was updated Friday.